Democrats have made clear that they are ready to allow tax rates to rise and automatic cuts to kick in for both defense and domestic programs in order to pressure Republicans into cutting a deal with them.
But as they head into the election, they want to depict the GOP as the obstacle to a compromise. They also need to be mindful of the risk that too much talk of brinkmanship could spook financial markets and exacerbate the weakness of the economy, which is already a vulnerability for Democrats.
That has led them to offer slightly different messages to different audiences. Within the Beltway, quietly, Democrats offer tougher talk and advertise their willingness to take the struggle with Republicans to the brink if they have to. When speaking to broader audiences, the message emphasizes unity and averting tax increases on the majority of Americans.
The White House must tread carefully as it works to project a unified front with congressional Democrats threatening to let tax cuts for the wealthy expire while insulating President Obama from the political risk of toying with the brink of the fiscal cliff.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who outlined the Democratic strategy in a speech this month, put the GOP on notice that her party would rather plunge off the fiscal cliff than extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
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